WGRZ Staff, WGRZ 9:06 a.m. EDT April 27, 2014
St. Casmir is a historic church in Buffalo’s Kaisertown neighborhood. In 1976, Pastor Czeslaw Kyrsa was a young seminarian in Niagara Falls. “A group of bishops came to St. Casimir’s,” he recalls.”My pastor then told me it’s a bunch of bishops from Poland.” He happened to speak Polish. “‘We’re going to Buffalo.’ That’s all he said.” Leading the delegation was Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. “With all this anticipation and excitement, right down the steps that I walk down now, every single day, comes Karol Wojtyla, vested for Mass and everything, greeting everybody, saying a few words, and he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I saw you at Niagara Falls yesterday, so he had a very good memory.”
Two years later, that same Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope in more than 450 years, and at age 58, the youngest pope in over 150 years. Some who were at the Vatican for his installation sensed the achievements to come even then. “He’s made it, he’s made it,” said Monsignor John Gabalski of St. Stanislaw’s Church in Buffalo. “He’s the people’s man.”
“The people’s man” became the most traveled pope in history. He visited more than 100 countries during his 27 years in office. He was the first pope to visit Cuba, the first modern pope to visit a synagogue. Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone found him to be deeply spiritual. “I had the privilege of being in his private chapel for morning Mass,” he tells us. “I was a priest working in Boston then. Going in there, he was already there, sitting in a chair, with a kneeler in front of him, he wasn’t vested, he wasn’t dressed yet for Mass, he was just there for his morning prayer. And just looking at him, his eyes were closed tightly, and you could hear the slightest whisper of a prayer. You knew that this man was a mystic. You just knew looking at him that he was deeply in contact with God. We were coming in quietly and taking our places and waiting for Mass to start. He wasn’t even aware that we were there. Then, eventually, one of his assistants would, about five minutes before the Mass, would come over and just tap him gently. He wasn’t asleep, he was deep in meditation, tap him, and he’d get ready for mass. A remarkable experience.” …
But some Catholic believe it was too fast, especially in light of the priest sex scandals in the Church. Critics claim he and his top advisors failed to grasp the severity of the abuse problem until late in his papacy. Judith Burns-Quinn of Hamburg heads the WNY chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. She says she’s torn between her admiration of Pope John Paul and the failure of the Church under his watch “I think he was a wonderful man and was a good pope. (But) I think this is very premature and they’re rushing.”
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